The Long War

It will take a long time and a lot of effort to rebuild the American middle class and restore the balance between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. The Wall Street bankers and other big corporate types have been winning so long, have been so entrenched in their power, that recreating real democracy in America will be a long, hard slog. We'll win some but we'll lose some, and some of the time we will do both at the same time.

That is the story of the robo-signing settlement that has finally become a done deal after many long months of struggle over it. I have been strongly against it for a long time, because based on the (pretty well-sourced) rumors about it, it was sounding like it would be another sweetheart deal for the big Wall Street banks that had run roughshod over the rule of law in this country. I still regret, and think it is a loss for the sense of justice we should have in this country, that the big banks wouldn't be thoroughly investigated for every single crime they have likely committed. I haven't seen all the details of the settlement yet, nor have I had policy gurus I trust like Damon Silvers from the AFL-CIO walk me through all the pros and cons, but I suspect when I do see the details there will be plenty I don't like. But I also feel good as I write this that the progressive movement won some really important concessions on this agreement, and that a group of gutsy and gritty Attorneys General led by Eric Schneiderman of New York faced down the bankers and made them cave on some big things.

Again, I've yet to see the final language, but multiple trustworthy sources report to me that the release language on what claims bankers won't have to contend with going forward is very narrow, and that both Schneiderman and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden won the right to go forward with tough lawsuits they have filed against banking interests on the MERS corporation. I'm also told the money ultimately won by this settlement will amount to $39 billion after everything is taken into effect, which is sure not enough but a lot more than the $15 billion I was first hearing when this process started months ago. On a number of different key issues, lawyers involved in the talks tell me the bankers pulled out all the stops but were forced to cave in the end.

Most importantly of all, progressives won something that was never even on the table when these settlement talks started: we got a bigger, broader investigation into financial fraud through the new task force, co-chaired by Schneiderman, appointed by President Obama.

So in this stage of the struggle, we definitely lost some things, especially the chance for dedicated prosecutors to keep investigating and prosecuting all those robo-signing perjuries, but we also won some important things that open the door for more investigation, prosecution, and forced mortgage write downs by the big banks. We have won our chance to keep the prospect of pressuring the banks alive. Now we have to take advantage of it. We have to keep the heat on high intensity to make sure this task force isn't for show, that roadblocks aren't thrown in the way of the prosecutors like Schneiderman who really want to prosecute, and that enough staff resources are allocated to take these investigations deep into the heart of what these bankers did to our economy.

In a long-term struggle to restore balance and fairness to our economy, you don't often get a clean win. You get a lot more results like this one, where we lost some significant things but won some as well. I will say this, though: Wall Street is used to winning everything, so the fact that our side is winning at least a decent percentage is really throwing them for a loop. Now that we've won a few key things on this settlement, we have the potential to win some big ones that will really matter, like finally holding the big banks legally accountable and getting a few hundred billion dollars in mortgage debt relief. And then we'll figure out what new battles to fight to lessen the power of the 1 percent.